Fitzgerald went into 2012 as one of the top Fantasy receivers while Jones was an afterthought on Draft Day. But it was Jones who was the better Fantasy option at the end of the season as the No. 15 receiver in standard leagues, and he led all receivers with 14 touchdowns. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, was the No. 41 receiver in what turned out to be the worst year of his career.
But when you strip away the stats most people look at -- catches, yards and touchdowns -- you'll find Fitzgerald should have been the better Fantasy option. We know Jones had the better quarterback with Aaron Rodgers -- which was the overriding difference -- but Fitzgerald was still more involved on offense.
Fitzgerald had more targets than Jones at 153 to 98 and more red-zone targets at 20 to 19. Jones was just more efficient (and not subjected to catching passes from Kevin Kolb and Brian Hoyer), but Fitzgerald's numbers are still the ones you want when it comes to these types of stats.
Of the Top 15 receivers last season in Fantasy points in a standard league -- Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Vincent Jackson, Eric Decker, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Marques Colston, Wes Welker, Victor Cruz, Michael Crabtree and James Jones -- only James Jones was not in the Top 25 of most-targeted receivers. In fact, he's the only receiver in the Top 25 from 2012 in standard leagues who had fewer than 100 targets.
If this happens again based on the target data we can safely assume Fitzgerald will have a better season than Jones. Sure, the addition of Carson Palmer for the Cardinals is a huge boost for Fitzgerald, but typically the receiver who is more involved will have the better year.
What we're doing here is looking at second-level stats like targets for receivers, running backs and tight ends, touches for running backs and red-zone targets for receivers and tight ends. You can find all those stats here for an in-depth look at the data, and we encourage you to familiarize yourself with these stats throughout the season.
We're giving you a snapshot of some players who could increase or decrease in each category to help you on Draft Day for 2013. The goal is to find players who are going to touch the ball as much as possible.
Wide receivers (targets)
|Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals||153||193|
|Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs||114||140|
|Anquan Boldin, 49ers||112||128|
|Torrey Smith, Ravens||110||125|
|Antonio Brown, Steelers||106||129|
|Randall Cobb, Packers||104||135|
|Michael Floyd, Cardinals||86||120|
|Chris Givens, Rams||80||111|
|Golden Tate, Seahawks||67||95|
|Rueben Randle, Giants||32||81|
Calvin Johnson led the NFL in targets last season with 204, but Reggie Wayne was second at 194. Bruce Arians was calling plays for the Colts last season, and now he's the head coach for the Cardinals. That should allow Fitzgerald to potentially be the most-targeted receiver this season since Arians is going to call a lot of passing plays, and he's going to target Fitzgerald as much as possible. Michael Floyd will also benefit with Arians, and he should be considered a sleeper on Draft Day.
Dwayne Bowe is another receiver who will benefit from a coaching change when it comes to targets because Andy Reid was known to call a passing play or two when he was the coach of the Eagles. Going back to 2004, Philadelphia was Top 10 in pass attempts in seven of nine years, and Reid hasn't had a player of Bowe's caliber since Terrell Owens. In 2004, Owens averaged over nine targets per game, and Bowe should definitely be in that range this season. He was just under nine targets per game a year ago, and Bowe gets a quarterback upgrade in Alex Smith.
Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Antonio Brown, Chris Givens and Golden Tate are all receivers who will see an increase in targets as a result of another receiver getting hurt or leaving the team. For Boldin it's Crabtree (Achilles) going down; Smith it's Boldin leaving town; Brown it's becoming the No. 1 receiver in place of Mike Wallace; Givens it's replacing Danny Amendola; Tate it's stepping up in place of Percy Harvin (hip).
I'm a believer in Randall Cobb getting 100 catches like Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy have speculated, and all he has to do is remain efficient and get the expected increase in targets to make that happen. Cobb caught 77 percent of his targets in 2012, so about 30 more targets should put him over the century mark for receptions.
As for Randle, he should assume a bigger role as the No. 3 receiver for the Giants, and he could dominate if Hakeem Nicks gets hurt again. Randle wasn't ready to be the No. 3 receiver last year, and the Giants suffered without a replacement for Mario Manningham. Now Randle is ready, and Manningham had 77 targets in 2011 as the No. 3 receiver for Eli Manning, which is about what you can anticipate for Randle this season.
Some other receivers I expect to see an increase in targets based on an increased role or coming back from injury include: T.Y. Hilton, DeSean Jackson, Josh Gordon, Emmanuel Sanders, Alshon Jeffery, Mohamed Sanu, Rod Streater, Greg Little, Ryan Broyles, Pierre Garcon, Kenny Britt, Amendola, Vincent Brown and Cecil Shorts.
|Reggie Wayne, Colts||194||178|
|Brandon Marshall, Bears||193||180|
|Wes Welker, Broncos||174||148|
|Andre Johnson, Texans||164||150|
|Steve Johnson, Bills||147||133|
|Demaryius Thomas, Broncos||141||130|
|Brian Hartline, Dolphins||128||103|
|Eric Decker, Broncos||123||111|
|Andre Roberts, Chargers||113||85|
|Nate Washington, Titans||89||77|
For the receivers expected to decline in targets, there's one main reason why -- help. All of the receivers listed here aside from Wayne are getting new teammates who should take away targets this year, and Wayne will suffer because Arians is gone.
Marshall gets Jeffery back for a full season and the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett. The Broncos are now a crowded receiving corps with the addition of Welker; Andre Johnson (DeAndre Hopkins), Steve Johnson (Robert Woods) and Nate Washington (Justin Hunter) have new rookies on their team, and Brian Hartline is no longer the No. 1 receiver in Miami with Wallace there. Andre Roberts will suffer because he goes from the starter opposite Fitzgerald to No. 3 on the depth chart behind Floyd.
Welker is interesting because he caught 68 percent of his targets last year, but he expects his stats to decline. The Denver Post predicts Welker will go from 112 catches -- which was his average in New England for six years -- to around 75 catches this season. I have him at 128 targets, which would give him 87 catches this year at a 68 percent success rate.
Running backs (targets)
|Matt Forte, Bears||60||76|
|Steven Jackson, Falcons||54||72|
|Reggie Bush, Lions||52||85|
|Jamaal Charles, Chiefs||48||69|
|Shane Vereen, Patriots||13||61|
As my colleague Dave Richard points out with his look at coaches, Marc Trestman likes to throw the ball to his running backs a lot, which suits Matt Forte's skill set just fine. Forte should easily be above 50 catches again after a career-low 44 in 2012.
When I spoke to Falcons coach Mike Smith at the NFL owners meeting in March, he was ecstatic about Steven Jackson and his ability to catch the ball. Jackson was limited to 38 catches in 2012, which was his lowest reception total since 2007, but he has at least 45 catches in three years in his career. "Steven has been a very successful runner over the last eight seasons, but he also can catch the football," Smith said. "He'll be another weapon that we'll have on our offensive football team."
The Lions attempted 116 passes to Joique Bell (68 targets) and Mikel Leshoure (48) last season, and they combined for 86 receptions. Don't be surprised if we're low on these target stats for Reggie Bush.
LeSean McCoy had 78 catches in 2010 and has two seasons in his past three with at least 54 catches. Jamaal Charles' career high in receptions is 45, but we expect him to get at least 50 catches this season if not 60 under Reid.
We know the Patriots have a revamped receiving corps this season, but two key players who are gone when it comes to Shane Vereen are Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez. They combined for 138 targets and 91 receptions, and Vereen should see a good portion of those stats. He's one of my top breakout candidates this season.
|Ray Rice, Ravens||83||71|
|Marcel Reece, Raiders||73||51|
|LeSean McCoy, Eagles||67||59|
|Arian Foster, Texans||58||49|
|Danny Woodhead, Chargers||55||48|
There are three elite running backs likely to decline in targets: Ray Rice, Arian Foster and McCoy. All three have other running backs who should take away workload this season, which explains the expected decline. But don't expect a severe lack of production because all three of those running backs should still perform at a high level.
Marcel Reece was a nice find for Fantasy owners last year, especially when Darren McFadden got hurt, but the Raiders added two running backs this offseason in Rashad Jennings and Latavius Murray, who should keep Reece at fullback and limit his receptions.
Woodhead also should see a decline in catches because the Chargers offense will be nowhere near as explosive as the Patriots, which will hurt his opportunities and his production.
Tight ends (targets)
|Jared Cook, Rams||72||102|
|Rob Housler, Cardinals||68||85|
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||61||90|
|James Casey, Eagles||45||66|
|Jordan Cameron, Browns||39||85|
Jared Cook said he was underused in Tennessee, but the Rams are expecting big things from him this season. He's a tight end to target in all leagues and should be considered a breakout candidate.
More Arians love: The Colts tight ends last year -- Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener -- combined for 114 targets. If he continues to involve the tight end with the Cardinals then that should allow Rob Housler to finally play at a high level.
Jordan Cameron and James Casey get the chance to play in tight-end friendly offenses this season. For Cameron, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have a great history with tight ends (see Kellen Winslow, Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen as examples). And Casey goes to play for Chip Kelly, who used his tight ends a lot at Oregon.
As for Vernon Davis, his disappearing act last season was shocking. This was a guy who had at least 93 targets in each of the previous three years. Now, it's hard to argue with the 49ers' success since they reached the Super Bowl, but Davis will again be a huge factor this season with Crabtree hurt.
|Jason Witten, Cowboys||150||135|
|Brandon Myers, Giants||105||88|
|Jermaine Gresham, Bengals||94||80|
|Brent Celek, Eagles||86||64|
|Jacob Tamme, Broncos||85||61|
Jason Witten saw a huge spike in targets last season when the past four seasons he was under 130 targets. That's a more reasonable range for him, but he should still play at a high level even with fewer looks.
Brandon Myers' targets will likely be closer to what Bennett had last season with the Giants (90). The Giants shouldn't be trailing in almost every game like the Raiders were last season, which helped propel Myers' stats.
Jermaine Gresham, Brent Celek and Jacob Tamme all have competition for targets on their own teams this year. Gresham should lose playing time to rookie Tyler Eifert (who is a nice sleeper this season), Celek has Casey and rookie Zach Ertz and Tamme might not even start because of the emergence of Julius Thomas.
Running backs (touches)
|C.J. Spiller, Bills||250||293|
|Pierre Thomas, Saints||144||183|
|Daryl Richardson, Rams||122||177|
|Bernard Pierce, Ravens||115||167|
|Ronnie Hillman, Broncos||95||170|
|David Wilson, Giants||75||249|
|Lamar Miller, Dolphins||57||246|
|Chris Ivory, Jets||42||242|
Let's get the three obvious guys out of the way in David Wilson, Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory since they should get a huge boost in workload. Miller and Ivory, assuming he's healthy, are locked into starting roles with the Dolphins and Jets, respectively. And Wilson is expected to share touches with Andre Brown, but he should still get plenty of work with the chance to be dominant. All three running backs are breakout candidates this season.
C.J. Spiller has the chance to be a star this year, especially if his averages from 2012 carry over to this season. Last year, Spiller had 207 carries and 43 catches with only nine starts, but he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per catch. If he gets close to 300 total touches then he could be a Top 3 Fantasy running back in 2013, depending on how many touchdowns he scores.
Here's one of my favorite stats about Pierre Thomas: There have been three times in his career where he's had at least 110 carries (2008, 2009 and 2011). Each time he's had over 900 total yards and six touchdowns. With Ivory gone, Thomas should get plenty of chances working with Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles. During the offseason, Thomas spent plenty of time working with the starting group.
Ronnie Hillman and Daryl Richardson have the chance to start for the Broncos and Rams, respectively, heading into the start of preseason action. While neither is a lock to hold onto the job, both should see a nice boost in workload and qualify as breakout candidates after their modest rookie seasons in 2012. They are great reserve running backs and potential flex options to draft with a mid-round pick.
Bernard Pierce should help carry the load in Baltimore, which will cut into Rice's touches. As we said about Rice earlier, don't be afraid to draft him in Round 1, but Pierce is a great mid-round selection. He had double digits in carries in four of the final six games last season, including the playoffs, and averaged 4.9 yards per carry during the year. The Ravens would be smart to give him a bigger role to help reduce the long-term wear and tear on Rice.
|Arian Foster, Texans||391||345|
|Chris Johnson, Titans||312||289|
|Ray Rice, Ravens||308||300|
|BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals||300||192|
|Frank Gore, 49ers||286||269|
|Mikel Leshoure, Lions||249||172|
|Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts||244||215|
|Ryan Mathews, Chargers||223||204|
The 49ers could also try and slow down Frank Gore this season to keep him fresh. Gore, 30, is coming off two long postseason runs the past two years with 632 carries and 60 catches over that span. With Kendall Hunter back from last year's Achilles injury and LaMichael James expected to see more work, Gore could lose carries. That happened last year before Hunter went down in Week 12. In the first 10 games of the year, Gore had just two games with more than 17 carries and only three with more than 20 total touches.
Foster is the poster child for a lesser workload this season after a whopping 406 carries and 55 catches last season, including the playoffs, and 735 carries and 116 catches the past two years with the postseason. It all coincides with Ben Tate coming back from an injury-riddled 2012, meaning Foster should get back to his stats he had in 2011 when both were healthy (278 and 53 catches during the regular season). He's still a Top 5 overall pick, but Foster does come with some concern given the risk of injury.
Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to start for the Colts, but they won't rely on him as a bellcow like the Giants did, especially with his foot problems. Vick Ballard will still play a prominent role. Ryan Mathews will lose work to Woodhead, and Leshoure could be bumped down to third string behind Bush and Bell. BenJarvus Green-Ellis also will come off the field, potentially a lot, in favor of rookie Giovani Bernard.
Chris Johnson isn't expected to lose too much work to Shonn Greene, but this is the first time since 2008 when the Titans had LenDale White that Johnson has a capable No. 2 running back to share carries. And Greene takes a huge step back going to Tennessee since he had over 250 carries each of the past two years for the Jets.
Wide receivers (red zone targets)
|Calvin Johnson, Lions||17||22|
|Danny Amendola, Patriots||12||17|
|Kenny Britt, Titans||11||18|
|Torrey Smith, Ravens||10||16|
|Antonio Brown, Steelers||9||15|
One of the reasons Calvin Johnson had just five touchdowns last season -- aside from being tackled an NFL-high eight times inside the 5-yard line and five times inside the 1-yard-line – was being tied for No. 12 in red-zone targets. We know Johnson gets blanketed by opposing defenses near the goal line, but he needs more chances. In 2011, Johnson had 24 red zone targets, which makes more sense.
Don't be surprised to see Amendola among the leaders in red zone targets. In 2010, he led all receivers in this category with 24. Welker had at least 20 red zone targets in two of the past three seasons for the Patriots.
Britt finally being healthy for a full year should help his red zone chances increase. Britt also should take away a couple of targets from Kendall Wright, who led the Titans last year with 13.
Smith and Brown get a boost because of the guys they are expected to replace. The Ravens lost 18 red zone targets from last year between Boldin and Dennis Pitta (hip), which should help Smith. And the Steelers could be without as many as 36 red zone targets from 2012 with Wallace gone and Heath Miller coming back from a torn ACL, which will force more action toward Brown.
|Eric Decker, Broncos||24||17|
|Brandon Marshall, Bears||23||18|
|Marques Colston, Saints||22||18|
|James Jones, Packers||19||15|
|Mike Wallace, Dolphins||17||14|
Like we said earlier with Decker, as well as Thomas and Welker, the targets all around will decrease for the Broncos receivers. But Decker gets the mention here since he led the NFL in red zone targets with 24, which was a big reason why he was second among receivers with 13 touchdowns. He scored 11 in the red zone, which will be hard to duplicate.
Marshall will also see a decline in the red zone because of Bennett and Jeffery, and Wallace will likely be closer to the 11 red zone targets that Hartline had to lead the Dolphins in 2012. Colston will still be a significant factor in the red zone, but having Jimmy Graham and Sproles healthy all season will cut into those targets.
Tight ends (red zone targets)
|Brandon Myers, Giants||13||16|
|Jermichael Finley, Packers||8||14|
|Dustin Keller, Dolphins||7||15|
While Myers could see a decrease in overall targets, his red zone work should go up. Bennett had 16 red zone targets last season for the Giants, and New York has had a tight end near the top of the red zone target list each of the past three years with Jake Ballard (12) in 2011 and Kevin Boss (11) in 2010.
Finley had 16 red zone targets and eight red zone touchdowns in 2011, and that's closer to what to expect from him than last year's poor showing of eight targets and one touchdown. He is a great bounce-back candidate this season.
|Jermaine Gresham, Bengals||13||9|
|Tony Scheffler, Lions||11||7|
|Brent Celek, Eagles||10||6|
Dustin Keller is healthy this season, which will obviously increase his stats across the board, but the Dolphins had 14 red zone targets to Anthony Fasano last year. Keller should see that kind of attention, and he could easily replicate Fasano's five red zone scores.
It would be a surprise to see Gresham and Celek reach double digits in red zone targets given the additions at tight end for their respective teams, so consider them significant downgrades in '13. The same goes for Tony Scheffler with the healthy return of Nate Burleson and Broyles. And as we said earlier, it would behoove the Lions to give Johnson more targets in the red zone to make their offense more successful.